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Dr. G. & Friends  |  

Unfortunately, learning is not an outcome of teaching

The counter-intuitive notion that learning is not an outcome of teaching can be a challenging concept.

This is natural, for several reasons.

First, due to our experiences, we tend to naturally associate teaching with learning.

Second, despite the logical connection of teaching with learning we often fail to discern the actual dynamics of that relationship.

Finally, the concept that learning is not an outcome of teaching begs the question, “Well then what am I teaching for if not to bring about learning?!”


While teaching and learning are two sides of the same coin the reality is that often what learners actually learn in a given lesson or course has little connection to what the teacher does or is trying to teach.


We can imagine that some of this has to do with poor teaching.

A teacher who does not understand principles of learning neglects to prepare well-designed learning outcomes, and fails to apply sound instructional practices will likely not bring about meaningful learning.

But the concept that “learning is not an outcome of teaching” goes deeper than that.

The idea has to do with the fact that learners (students and pupils) are active participants in their own learning.


Regardless of our particular educational intent as teachers, students bring to the learning experience their own expectations, felt needs, goals, assumptions, frames of reference, and limitations related to the learning experience.

Those factors often are more determinative of what will actually be learned than will anything the teacher intends.


Congregational ministers are familiar with this phenomenon.

Regardless of how well they craft a sermon for the congregation and despite how intentional they are in being clear about the purpose, function, and objective of the sermon, the fact is that the “real” sermon is the one that is heard by each parishioner in the pew and not the one preached from the pulpit.

The preacher may be preaching the sermon he or she prepared on a Sunday, but there will be as many varied sermons heard as there are people in the sanctuary.

This phenomenon always makes for interesting conversations at the door as the pastor greets the parishioners after the worship service.

If five people comment on the sermon on their way out the preacher will be left wondering how they heard those five different things in the sermon!


The concept that learning is not an outcome of teaching can challenge certain educational approaches, like “teaching by telling,” lecturing, or an exclusive diet of direct instruction.

If learners are active agents in their own learning then we need to use those educational approaches that tap into what students bring to the learning experience.


Teachers need to facilitate ways for students to be agents of their own learning by:


Looking for learning opportunities this fall? Visit the CLL courses and programs page here.

Israel Galindo is Associate Dean for Lifelong Learning at the Columbia Theological Seminary. He directs the Pastoral Excellence Program at Columbia seminary. He is the author of the bestseller, The Hidden Lives of Congregations (Alban), Perspectives on Congregational Leadership (Educational Consultants), and A Family Genogram Workbook (Educational Consultants), with Elaine Boomer & Don Reagan, and Leadership in Ministry: Bowen Theory in the Congregational Context.

His books on education include Mastering the Art of Instruction,The Craft of Christian Teaching (Judson), How to be the Best Christian Study Group Leader (Judson), and Planning for Christian Education Formation (Chalice Press).

Galindo contributes to the Wabash Center’s blog for theological school deans and to its teaching and learning blogs.

Dr. G. & Friends